Today, I’m pleased to introduce James Hutchings, self-published author of The New Death and Others, an anthology of short stories and poems available in e-book format. Please help me welcome him to The Warrior Muse!
Death gets a roommate...
An electronic Pope faces a difficult theological question...
A wicked vizier makes a terrible bargain...
44 stories. 19 poems. No sparkly vampires. There's a thin line between genius and insanity, and James Hutchings has just crossed it - but from which direction?
He had me at “no sparkly vampires!” James Hutchings’ stories and poems are a great mix of whimsy and darkness, with many of them set in the fictional world of Teleleli/Telelee.
I was intrigued by the world of Teleleli that you created and it made me wonder if you have a background in mythology and what inspired you to create this world?
When I was young we had a copy of 'Bullfinch's Mythology', which I read a lot. The world of Teleleli or Telelee is influenced by it in that the gods have much more of a presence, like Greek mythology but unlike most fantasy fiction. Teleleli is also a 'loveably evil' fantasy city, which is quite common. Terry Pratchett's Ankh-Morpork is a famous example, but Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar is probably where that idea started. Before I wrote any stories I had an online game called Age of Fable, and I carried a lot of ideas over from that.
Interesting. I've never read those, but am betting I would like them. I like the mix of mythology and the “’lovably evil’ fantasy city.”
Your mix of story types shook things up, so the next piece was always a mystery to the reader. For instance, a short mythological/dark fantasy story followed by a jaunty humor poem. Of the types of pieces, do you have a favorite to write? Humor vs. Mythology/Dark Fantasy; Poem vs. Short Story.
I like writing flash fiction (stories under 1000 words) because they're the quickest to finish, and so I get the satisfaction of adding another story to my collection sooner.
There appears to be a political theme throughout your book, as well. Did you set out to make a political statement, or is it something that just tends to come out when you're writing?
I didn't set out to make a statement or have a 'message'. Like anyone else's writing, my writing is a reflection of the things I'm interested in or thinking about at the time. A lot of people would think of fantasy as being all about escaping the real world, but it's surprising how much of it makes the author's views obvious. CS Lewis, Tolkien, HP Lovecraft, Robert E Howard and Ursula Le Guin are famous examples.
Good point. No matter the story, we'll often see a little bit of the author peeking out.
Some of your stories seemed reminiscent of HP Lovecraft. Did he influence your work? Who else do you feel may have influenced your writing style (if anyone)?
I think HP Lovecraft's story ideas had an influence on me, but not his writing style.
JRR Tolkien and Jack Vance for the elaborate dialogue. Robert E Howard for the general atmosphere. Terry Pratchett for the humour. Lord Dunsany for the use of Fame, Time and so on as characters.
Switching gears, why did you make the decision to self-publish? Did you attempt traditional publishing first or did you know from the start that self-publishing was the direction you preferred?
I've never tried to be traditionally published. It seems like traditional publishers expect most of their authors to do their own promotion anyway, so what are they giving in return? Also, of course, it's very difficult to get a contract, and bloggers like JA Konrath argue that it's going to get more and more difficult, because publishers will respond to loss of income by cutting their 'mid-list', or paying them less, to concentrate on a few authors who can make them a lot of money. I was also influenced by not wanting to waste paper. There are publishers who only publish electronically, but I was skeptical about what they'd do for me that I couldn't do for myself.
I never really looked at it that way, but you're right. Traditional publishing or not, right now authors are having to do an awful lot of running around and promoting.
What, if anything, has been your biggest obstacle to publication?
If you're fairly computer-literate and internet-savvy, there aren't any real obstacles to publication any more. The downside of that is that, if your work isn't ready to be published, no one's going to stop you. That's why I put a lot of effort into getting critiques of my work.
I think nowadays it isn't so much "how do I get published?", but "how do I make sure I don't publish something bad?" and "how do I get anyone to notice my work among the thousands of other writers?"
How long did you hold off on publishing before deciding you were ready, and what was the process leading up to it? (How did you get critiques, how many, how did you ultimately decide it was time)?
I classed everything I wrote as 'good enough to publish' or 'not good enough', and kept writing until I had at least 40,000 words of 'good enough'. I chose 40,000 words as my target because that's generally considered the minimum length for a novel.
I think I got at least one critique for all 63 pieces. I have a face-to-face critique group that meets once a week, as well as being on two websites (www.scribophile.com and www.critiquecircle.com), and an email list for stories under 1000 words (the flashfiction-w list).
I hadn't heard of those sites; they seem like great resources. I may have to check them out!
For those stories that weren't good enough, are you still working on them or do you typically shelve them?
I've turned some stories that either I didn't finish, or weren't very good, into poems. Otherwise I just keep them. Maybe I'll go back to them in a year or so.
What is your next big project?
I'm working on a verse version of 'A Princess of Mars'. This is a science fiction adventure story, now in the public domain, written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, who's more famous for Tarzan. Disney is also doing a movie of it, called 'John Carter', but that's not why I chose it. I generally work on several things at the same time, so I'm also in the middle of a few short stories and poems. I've been encouraged to write a novel set in the fantasy city of Telelee, which is the setting of a few of the stories in 'The New Death and others'. I have a lot of background for this world, because I blog every day (http://www.apolitical.info/teleleli) and most of it is setting detail. I also have a half-finished novel called 'All-American Detectives', which is a combination of a detective story and a story about superheroes, which I'll probably come back to in the future.
You sound very busy. It's great that you're thinking of doing a novel about Telelee; you definitely appear to have built up a multi-dimensional world there that could support a novel.
As we near the end of the interview, what advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Nowdays anyone can self-publish. If you can make a Word document, you can have an e-book on Smashwords or Amazon. However that means that if your work is no good, no one's going to stop you. I'd recommend that people get into a critique group (either online or face-to-face), and listen to what people tell you. Don't 'defend' your work against people's 'attacks'. They aren't attacks, they're helping you. I've found that the people who defend their work have a strong tendency to have the worst writing, I suppose because they're not making the changes they need to make.
My next point doesn't matter if you're going to self-publish, but it is important if you want to be published by a regular publisher, or if you want to submit stories to magazines. Most places won't publish work that's already been published. And most places count putting a story on the internet as publishing it. In my opinion that's silly, but that's what they do. Scribophile and Critique Circle are exceptions, because Google doesn't index them and you can't see any stories without logging on. However there are writing group websites out there where, if you put a story on the site, that counts as the story being published. That seems like a really terrible way to set things up, but they're out there.
I'd also say that getting a book out isn't the final step. It's just the start of the work of self-promotion. This is true even if you're not self-publishing: I'm told that authors are expected to pretty much arrange their own book signings and so on (if you just want to have a book out to show family and friends then this doesn't matter, of course).
There are a lot of sharks out there, who make their money from authors and not from readers. They will make all sorts of promises about how they're going to promote you and help you, but these are lies. Authors do not pay publishers, ever, and if they're asking you to pay then it's a scam. Of course if you're self-publishing you might end up paying someone to design a cover for you, or you might pay for internet advertising, but those are different things. You might also pay a printer to print your books if you want to get physical books rather than e-books - but in this age of the kindle and print-on-demand I don't know why you'd want to. Preditors and Editors (www.pred-ed.com) is a good website to look at, and you can get good advice at the forums of Critique Circle.
Finally, I'd suggest learning to touch-type if you can't already. You're going to be doing a lot of typing, and every hour you spend getting faster at typing will save you ten in the long run.
Thank you so much for your helpful advice and for the opportunity to interview you. You’ve given us some great resources, both in the links and in your words.
For everyone else, you can find The New Death and Others at Amazon on Kindle format, and at Smashwords in multiple formats. You can also download a sample of the book at Smashwords. This book is available now; I hope you enjoy it!
Thank you for joining us here today.
May you find your Muse.